Manichaeus, the 3rd century B.C. founder of the heretical religion Manichaeism, addresses the Zoroastrian god Ahura-Mazda

Tremble, Ahura-Mazda! Be thou dumb
Upon thine altars ash’d of ancient fires.
For thou art sick! Nor wast thou ever-young.
Trembling near thy magus-choirs
Keep not death’s chamber holy-still,
Profane they cry, “The deathless and th’ever-strong
Expireth!” Blaspheme through their tears of shame.
Lament Persia! Thy right enough not long!
Thy shahs now rot, thy god hath gray hairs on.

Cry, Ahura-Mazda! And know thou dread.
Become as man, and like a woman wail!
The pangs are come. Let blast thy perfumed head
The agonies of earth where men travail.
Thy godhead sun be sunk in scenes unkind!
(True, lord, where hangs thy throne no twilight spreads
In noon eternal. But the mortal mind,
Thy hazard seat, too frail for glory’s tread,
Broke by Grecian horse, his heart its veil hath shed).

The magus standing at the altar prays.
Before the sacred fire he veils his mouth,
He calls upon his god, he bows and sways,
And though the words he utters were pronounced
By fathers favored by thy dread regard,
In vain he raised his hands and eyes to gaze
Upon thy feathered throne in Paradise,
For life and victory and length of days—
Whence only spoke a silence that betrays.

This poem previously appeared on Social Matter.

 

Carl Hildebrand is a Latin Old Calendarist. His poetry has also been published on Social Matter and the Sydney Traditionalist Forum. Under another name, he is a scholar and teacher of ancient and medieval history, specializing in the history of the Church.


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12 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    I’m not sure how to take this. I liked the power of the imprecations delivered unto the Zoroastrians, but I can’t help remembering that they supposedly were the first monotheistic religion, and that Manichaeism has long been considered a heresy. I don’t expect you to take a stand on the ontological essence of the matter — your poem, as a fictive artifact, stands on its own — but I would love to know how you really feel about this. James Blish wrote an SF book (A Case of Conscience), in which the protagonist underwent a heresy trial for crediting an alien race (for whom a completely godless social order was in place) with actual existence. At the end of the novel an exorcism was performed, but since that planet was light-years away, the disappearance of that particular star from our sky would not happen for many years. Or something like that. He won a Hugo for that novel, and I recommend it highly, if you can find a copy. Anyway, your poem is dense with meaning, which is one of the requirements of good art.

    Reply
  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    I believe that there are still Zoroastrians in India, called “Parsees.” Tradition has it that they emigrated there from Persia after the Moslem takeover.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      It’s strange how the Persians, speakers of an Indo-European language, have become our enemies. No modern-day Xerxes can be found, but still we arm ourselves like ancient Greeks.

      Reply
  3. Carl Hildebrand

    Why do you think that they are our enemies? They never did anything to me.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      The Persians have generally been enemies of the West, ever since their attempt to conquer and enslave the Greeks, and since the rivalry between the Parthians and the Roman Empire. It has nothing to do with your personal feelings.

      And they are certainly dangerous enemies to us today, ever since the fall of the Shah.

      Reply
    • Monty

      Good point, Carl.

      For those who see things as their nation wants them to see things, Persians are their enemies.

      For those who see things as they really are; who recognise the ordinary citizens of such countries and not the governments or regimes . . they are no enemy.

      In the 15 years that I’ve been spending my winters in Nepal, the amount of travelling Persians that I’ve met must run into three figures; and I’ve always found them to be a very earthy, humble and musical race.

      It’s just the classic insularity of North Americans: they don’t go to see for themselves how things really are . . they just stay on their own shores and watch CNN: from which they make their judgements.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        CNN is an overtly left-wing news network that spouts politically correct propaganda. I never watch it.

  4. Monty

    . . I didn’t mean CNN in particular; it was just a generalisation for all news channels.

    Reply
  5. Carl Hildebrand

    Dr. Salemi,
    The Persians have not been a serious menace to the West since Heraclius smashed them in the 7th century. Even then they were a shadow of what they had been during the Achaemenid period.

    You, of all people, should know full well why we have been made to believe that the Iranians are our mortal foes.

    Really, I am surprised by you. Iran is the most civilized state in that part of the world.

    Reply
  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    I did not say that they were “mortal foes” to us. I said that they were dangerous, as I believe all non-Western powers are. It’s smart to keep in mind that the world is a perpetually hazardous place, and we do not have permanent allies in it — only permanent interests.

    Reply
  7. Carl Hildebrand

    That’s entirely fair.

    I admire your poetry immensely, Dr. Salemi, and I’d value your opinion.

    Do you think my poem is any good?

    Reply
  8. Joseph S. Salemi

    Dear Mr. Hildebrand —

    The problem I have with your poem is essentially my fault, not yours. A great deal of it is unclear to me because of my lack of knowledge of the historical and religious background that lies behind it. The other thing is what I feel about the excessive use of the “thy, thou, thine” pronouns and the older verbal forms of “art,” “wast,” “hath,” “expireth,” and the like. I don’t object to such older usages on principle. In fact, I have defended them when I thought they were necessary in some modern poems. But when they are very prominent in a poem they tend to become distractions for the modern reader. And nothing in a poem should distract from the poem’s intended effect upon a reader.

    I know that you are trying to re-create a scene from the ancient world, and for this reason a certain aura of antiquity should be palpable in the poem. I have no argument with that. But the “thy, thou, thine” pronouns (and the older verbal inflections of “-th” and “-st”) are irreversibly connected with English history, and not ancient Persian. They are forms from medieval and early modern English. English-speaking readers can connect such forms easily with the traditional translations of our prayers (“Our Father, Who art in heaven…” or “the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women…”), since they have the patina of time upon them despite being somewhat outdated. But in your poem they seem awkward and unwieldy, and therefore distract the reader from the larger purpose of the poem.

    I think you could done just as well to write the first two stanzas of your poem in the same generally modern idiom of the third stanza (except for the “thy” in the fifth line). Your epigraph about Manichaeus is sufficient to set the scene in the ancient world, and as long as the language is severe and stately and formal, that would be perfectly fine for the reader.

    I’m a Roman Catholic, but I love the traditional King James Bible of 1611 and read it regularly. It represents an English of about a century earlier than 1611, but it is amazingly beautiful and incantatory. Nevertheless, it is inextricably a part of ENGLISH linguistic history, and using it today to compose a text that represents some other culture and heritage would be misguided. That’s why I think you can get the strong sense of history and tradition that you want by simply rewriting your poem in a more modern (but highly formal and non-colloquial) style.

    I hope this helps.

    Reply

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